“I’ve always been a water junkie,” laughed Rich. “My grandfather took me fishing as far back as I can remember. It’s in my blood. I wanted to live on the water and get into the professional fishing industry.”
The couple sold their house in Michigan, packed up their belongings and family and restarted their lives in Englewood two years ago.
“We knew that we wanted to do it, and we decided that we should do it sooner rather than later,” Rich said. “We wanted to do it while we could enjoy it, because you never know what the future holds.”
Rich grew up in the Michigan town of Owosso, the only child of two former FBI employees. His father was a cryptographer, a codebreaker, and his mother was a secretary to J. Edgar Hoover. The couple retired around the same time that Rich was born. His mother stayed home to raise him and his father went into the commercial real estate business.
“Boca Grande reminds me of growing up in Michigan,” said Rich. “The small-town atmosphere is the same as Owosso. Janeen and I travelled up and down the coast looking for a place to live and work, and when we came here, we knew that this was it. We fell in love with the place and the people.”
Rich may have had ambitions of becoming a professional fisherman, but real estate, the family business in Michigan, kept calling him back.
“I worked for a real estate office locally before I started at the Inn Bakery,” he explained. “I actually still have an active license and several listings in Michigan, where I took over the business when my father passed away. It’s a small town and we have been in business for 30 years, so we get a lot of repeat customers. I have two employees in Michigan, and if someone calls with a property outside of our specialty, I have a couple of friends in the business that I can refer them to.”
When he graduated from high school, Rich began studying professional tennis management with the goal of becoming a tennis coach.
“I played tennis in high school, and it was something I was good at, but by the time I started I was really too old to make it on a tour,” he said. “I went through a program with Dennis Van Der Meer, who is a legend in the tennis world, and part of the way through the course he asked if I wanted to come work for him. I talked to my father about it, and his advice was that school would still be there when I was ready to go back and that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Rich taught at Van Der Meer’s Hilton Head Tennis Center. He went between Michigan and South Carolina over the next two years, taking classes in marketing and sales at Baker College Owosso and coaching in South Carolina.
It was at Baker that he met his future wife, Janeen. Janeen is a certified instructor of belly dance and burlesque and teaches dance on the island and mainland.
“I am the luckiest man in the world to have her,” said Rich. “The sense of stability that she has and the strength of her faith inspire me.”
Rich and Janeen got married and Janeen moved to Hilton Head to be with Rich while he taught tennis. Two years later, they moved back to Michigan and Rich was working in commercial real estate with his father.
The couple, who have been married for 17 years, have two daughters. Madeline is 14 and Giselle is four.
Rich loves to travel, and has visited many countries and traveled across the US, but the two trips that stand out in his mind are his trips to Western Europe and China.
He went to Great Britain to see the Wimbledon tennis championships.
“It was my first experience with another culture,” he said. “The time change, the different cultural norms, the different food. The U.S. and Great Britain may have a shared history, but there are a lot of differences. It was pretty amazing to see the crown jewels and actual castles in person.”
His trip to China, with Janeen, was for a totally different reason. When he returned from that country, he brought back with him the memory of standing on the Great Wall and looking out across the mountains and seeing it fade into the distance, along its remarkable length.
“The enormity of it was humbling,” said Rich. “When you start to realize the scale of it, it is incredible.”
But even his experience at the Great Wall fades to insignifigance when compared to meeting his daughter.
“Madeline is our biological daughter, and Giselle was adopted from China,” explained Rich. “Janeen had worked with an adoption organization, Great Wall China Adoptions, and really felt a conviction that she needed to adopt a child from China. I wasn’t too enthusiastic at first; as far as I was concerned we were done having children. Eventually, though I came around to the idea.
“Giselle was literally abandoned at the gates of an orphanage with no explanation,” he continued. “In many parts of the country, girls just aren’t valued at all.”
Rich’s wife Janeen is homeschooling both girls.
“That’s another reason that I admire her so much,” said Rich. “I know it’s a challenge, when you have children at both ends of the age spectrum. I don’t know how she does it. You have to be on the lookout for all of the things that a four-year-old can get into, while also making sure that a teenager is on the right path. Fortunately, Maddy has made a lot of neat friends here on Gasparilla Island. But there have been times when Giselle has gotten into trouble, and when you ask her where she learned to do whatever it is that she did, she answers ‘Maddy.’ It’s an adventure!”
Working at the Inn Bakery has been another adventure for Rich.
“I’ve never done anything with food service before, so it has been a learning experience,” he said. “We’ve all kind of figured the whole thing out as we have gone along. I learned to make most of the drinks the hard way, which is also the good way. I had some practice, but the first day the bakery was open I made over 300 drinks.”
Rich may be a relatively new barista, but he already has one specialty.
“I learned how to draw pictures in the foam on cappucinos and lattes,” he said. “Word got out and now people ask me to do it all the time.
While Rich survived the trial by fire of the bakery’s opening, he says the credit for the sucess of the venture goes to a completely different group of people.
“We can have the best drinks in the world, world class chefs in the back and wonderful customer service in the front, which we do. But without the support of the community we still wouldn’t have succeeded. It has been great getting to really know everyone out here. We’ve had a few famous people come through, yeah, but getting to know the seasonal and year-round residents of the island has been the best part. It’s such a diverse group out here. I get to know people two or three minutes at a time.”
When Rich is not working or spending time with his family, he can often be found out on the water, kiteboarding. A friend on Longboat Key introduced him to the sport.
“He brought his rig down from Michigan,” said Rich. “He told me I was crazy if I didn’t try it, so I did and I love it. You’re harnessed to a kite, and you use it to steer yourself across the water on a wakeboard, You can do jumps and different tricks, or you can crash spectacularly.”
This summer, Rich is working on his continuing education for his real estate license, and hopes to take a few trips with his family. But when season starts, he will be back at the bakery, waiting to see old friends and meet new ones.
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